A day at the Nottingham Tennis Centre

One of the grass courts at the Nottingham Tennis Centre. Photo: James Earl

Mr Mike Wisner, who works at the Nottingham Tennis Centre as Chief Operating Officer, talks about the preparation required for one of Wimbledon’s warm-up events.

The Nature Valley Open, which is one of the UK’s top grass events, takes place in late June, with the centre being opened in 1990 by Princes Diana. The event sees both women and men able to participate – with the former taking part in a main WTA event, and the latter competing on the ATP Challenger Tour – which is the second level in the men’s game. The challenger event has seen a number of players attend in the early stages of their career, such as Andy Murray and Nick Kyrgios while individuals including Johanna Konta and grand slam champion Samantha Stosur have appeared at the women’s event.

Mr Wisner was asked a series of questions which would provide an insight into how the event has become such a big deal, especially after being abandoned for several years from 2009-2014.

In 2018, the world number 1 Naomi Osaka reached the semi-finals, and Mr Wisner feels that the French Open will have a big say in who plays this year. “We were very lucky to have a very strong field, we’re hoping that Johanna Konta will come back again. I think a lot of it with the top players will relate to how well they do in the French Open – sometimes they finish early and get knocked out, and want to play on the grass courts as soon as possible”.

The Birmingham Open, which is held the following week, can limit the amount of players that choose to play in Nottingham. “Ours is a 250 event, whereas Birmingham is a 500, so the ranking points are different as well, while there are restrictions on the number of seeded players we can have”.

The tournament director Rebecca James will have the role of securing the best field possible, and Mr Wisner feels that the men’s challenger event provides a good opportunity for young players to breakthrough. “It’s really nice to see that people like Alex (De Minaur) won here, it was the start of his climb”.

The Lawn Tennis Association also helps contribute towards the tournament. “The LTA fund the tournament and the City Council give the facility to them in order to host the event. When it comes to the cost of the facility, it is paid for by the LTA, and they do the same for other similar tournaments, but no profit is made due to the expenses, such as grass courts,” Wisner Said.

He further elaborates upon the mass amount of work has to be done, especially given how hard a grass surface is to maintain: “It’s a 12 month programme, the finishing touches are done closer to the time of the tournament. There will be different programmes set in where different seeding takes place, to ensure the courts can grow stronger and are in strong condition for the event.”

The hard work has paid off, with the grounds team at the Nottingham Tennis Centre picking up an award in 2017, which Wimbledon were also nominated for: “We won the title but we work closely with the Wimbledon team who are very helpful to us, there’s a really close knit between the teams who run the grass court events,” Wisner said.

As well as this, the LTA have launched a new performance pathway, with a national academy at Loughborough University: “We at the centre have a regional player development centre and local player development centre, which help out players under 14, and will hopefully feed them into the national academy.”

LSJ reporter James Earl interviewed Mr Wisner about other elements of the Nottingham Open, as seen in the video below.